The Legacy Issue

Your Field Guide to Celebrating 100 Years of the Bauhaus

It was many things: a movement, a school, a style, a mixed-up social set. As an actual institution, though, it lasted fewer than 15 years. Yet, as the Bauhaus enters its centennial year, its influence can still be felt—and seen—around the globe. Here's a quick field guide for spotting its landmarks and legacy from city to city.

Bauhaus alumnus Alexander Cvijanovic worked with Hans Bandel to incorporate one of the movement’s founders, Walter Gropius’s, shed roof design into Berlin’s Bauhaus-Archiv, a tribute to and a repository for the school’s history.

Tel Aviv
The School Flies South

Fleeing Nazi-controlled Europe, Jewish architects arrived by the score in the Eastern Mediterranean to build a new life in a new country—and they built it, ironically, exactly as they’d been taught in Germany, applying the principles they’d learned there to the sunnier climes and pressing social concerns of what was then Mandatory Palestine. The hub for all things Bauhaus is Tel Aviv’s White City district, a neighborhood studded with strip-windowed wonders in countless configurations. To try to get a handle on it all, start off at the Bauhaus Center, which hosts small shows, boasts a well-stocked bookshop, books, and events. Then stop by the Bauhaus Museum, a small exhibition space housed in a gorgeous 1933 structure by designer Schlomo Geffstein. Can’t-miss buildings include Yehuda Lulka’s celebrated Shami House (often called “Thermometer House” for the finlike hash marks across its tall central window), the Max-Liebling House by Dov Karmi (credited for pioneering the broad horizontal terraces now ubiquitous throughout the city), and the Rubinsky House by Abraham Markusfeld (unusual for its use of external ornament, as well the nautical, circular apertures in the balconies). For a deeper sense of the movement’s history, have a look at the Meonot Ovdim workers’ housing estates by Arieh Sharon, the first designer to develop a master plan for the whole country and a leader in spreading Israel’s version of modernism. Or simply stroll around Dizengoff Square and marvel at a total Bauhaus environment, the movement’s urban dream made real.

Ukrainian by birth and educated in Paris, Yehuda Lulka gifted his adoptive city of Tel Aviv the beautiful Shami House, perhaps better known as “The Thermometer House.”

Mies’ Promised Land

Boston may have gotten Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus’s founder, but Chicago got its last director and its greatest aesthetic innovator. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe arrived in the City of Big Shoulders in the late 1930s, unable to speak English and having built very little in the last several years. Over the next two decades, he would become the most influential architect in the city—and arguably the country—and unquestionably the greatest exponent of a Bauhaus vision that was also very much his own. Visitors looking for his legacy might as well begin at the beginning: Mies’s first commission in town was for the campus of the Illinois Institute (then the Armour Institute) of Technology. Its 120 acres include no more than a dozen buildings by the master including the Crown Building, with its vast open interior, and the tiny Carr Memorial Chapel, as concise a statement of the architect’s hyper-refined minimalism as can be found anywhere. Next, head into the Loop and have a gander at the Chicago Federal Complex, a cluster of black monoliths on expansive plazas, then wheel northward to the Lake Shore Drive Apartments. And if you have time—and a car—make sure to get out of town to visit his Farnsworth House, the greatest of his residential projects, and McCormick House, now part of the Elmhurst Art Museum. Notably, Mies’s old pal Gropius did have one major project in town, a hospital campus, but you can’t visit it. The city tore it down a decade ago.

Movement master Mies van der Rohe’s 1952 McCormick House—once a private residence and now part of the Elmhurst Art Museum—lies about 20 miles outside of Chicago, the city on which he left his mark.

Building the New City

While it might not boast many buildings by actual Bauhaus luminaries, London embraced the principles of the school with as much energy as any city. It practically had to. The devastation of World War II meant that the city had to be extensively rebuilt, and the new architectural mode from abroad promised modern homes built economically in a style that marked a break from the past and its social ills. The Bauhaus was first introduced to the city just prior to the war, when Gropius as well as erstwhile Bauhaus professor Marcel Breuer arrived in London from Germany, staying for a time in the Isokon Flats, the Hampstead apartment house designed by British architect Wells Coates in a suitably modern style that showed how well continental ideas had already caught on in the U.K. The first truly modern apartment block in England, they’re currently home to a small gallery dedicated to the building and associated designs. Gropius himself would leave his mark (in collaboration with British architect Maxwell Fry) by designing a house for writer and politician Benn Levy. The Chelsea building’s crisp geometrical form and black-and-white facade are unmissable from the road. From there on, it was open season, as the postwar building boom saw housing blocks that reflected the Bauhaus influence spring up all over the city, from the Gropius-ish glass strip of Crescent House near the Barbican estate, to the simple Miesian grid of Robin Hood Gardens, a portion of which remains despite recent demolition.

Designed by Wells Coates, the Isokon Flats (also known as the Lawn Road Flats) was among the first modern apartment blocks in the nation and, at one time or another, the home of Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Egon Riss, Arthur Korn, and László Moholy-Nagy and now houses a gallery dedicated to their work and influence.

Capital of Design

The German capital was, in one sense, the graveyard of the Bauhaus. It was here that Mies took the school after the Nazis closed its Dessau campus, and it was here that he ultimately disbanded it in 1933. But Berlin was also the real-world proving ground for many of the Bauhaus’s ideas, and, despite the devastation wrought by the Second World War, a surprising number of monuments remain. Two of Gropius’s first residential projects from the early 1920s, Sommerfeld Haus and Haus Otte, show the movement still in its infancy, with rather decorative facades and visible traces of earlier influences such as Frank Lloyd Wright. A little outside the city proper, the ADGB Trade Union School by the Bauhaus’s second director, Hannes Meyer, shows the style much matured, strictly functional in aspect and clad in simple glass and brick. Buildings by fellow travelers (Bruno Taut’s Onkel Toms Hütte, Hans Poelzig’s Kino Babylon, and the collaborative effort of the Weiße Stadt) give some sense of the general milieu surround- ing the school in the pre-war years—though perhaps the most outstanding examples of the Bauhaus itself actually came well after midcentury. Completed in 1957, Walter-Gropius-Haus was named in honor of its exiled architect and shows just how much the founder’s approach had evolved during his years in the United States. And for sheer Bauhaus overload, there is no substitute for the Bauhaus-Archiv, based on a much-altered Gropius designed building and containing precious documents of all kinds dating back to the movement’s early days in Weimar.

A collaboration between Bauhaus fellow travelers Bruno Ahrends, Ludwig Lesser, Otto Rudolf Salvisberg, and Wilhelm Büning, the Weiße Stadt (“The White City”) not only showed the school’s principles leaking into the mainstream.

Cradle of Creativity

It seems appropriate that the Bauhaus should have begun its life in Weimar. Once the home of Goethe and Schiller, the city holds an outsized claim on the country’s history, having lent its name to the unstable republic that helped make the 1920’s a period of such cultural and intellectual ferment. The main buildings that were home to the school when Gropius launched it still stand. Designed by Henry van der Velde, they aren’t Bauhaus architecture per se, but they did serve as valuable precedents and house sequence of recreated wall paintings by famed Bauhaus teacher Oskar Schlemmer. More indicative of the school’s approach is the Haus am Horn. Completed in 1923, the four-square box-within-a-box was intended as an exhibition space, and—though primarily designed by Georg Muche—was a joint endeavor of students and faculty, who stuffed it to the gills with their furniture and art projects. The collaborative, multidisciplinary approach, as well as the building’s modern materials and unadorned facade, made it among the first and fullest realizations of the Bauhaus ideal. A more recent—and more controversial—fragment of the Bauhaus legacy in Weimar is the just-opened Bauhaus Museum, a spare volume of striated concrete hosting exhibitions about the school and its history. Intended by architect Heike Hinata to be a tribute to the Bauhaus, some critics have noted in it an unfortunate resemblance to Hitler’s Wolf’s Liar bunker in Poland.

Georg Muche’s 1929 Haus am Horn, the first fully usable building built based on Bauhaus theory.
The main building of Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, originally designed by architect Henry van de Velde is the movement’s first true home.

Gropius and the Gang Go Home

In the end, for pure Bauhaus-per-square-mile, nothing quite measures up to Dessau. When the conservative atmosphere of Weimar became too stifling for the growing program, Gropius pulled up stakes and moved the operation—students, faculty, and all—about 100 miles north, to the more welcoming city on the Elbe, a closer shot to Berlin and with ample land already promised for the development of an all-new campus. The sprawling facility that Gropius created became a model for modernist buildings around the world. Pinwheel in plan, with a dramatic skybridge spanning the main approach road, it allowed for living, learning, and making under a single roof, while its glass curtain wall facade and recessed columns (none of them at the corners) showed what was possible with 20th-century construction technology. While the building looms large in Bauhaus history, Dessau is home to other monuments as well, in particular the nearby Meisterhäuser, three homes originally designed by Gropius himself and his staff, as well as the Laubenganghäuser of 1930, a block of innovative workers’ flats by his successor, Meyer. And there’s another treasure in town, almost hidden in plain sight: an employment office created by Gropius in 1930 that still functions today as Dessau’s Office of Public Safety. An understated composition of brick and glass, its real charm is only revealed inside, where its skylights and curving corridors create an environment of casual serenity, Bauhaus spirit at its best.

(FROM LEFT) The campus is grounded by his massive Bauhaus main building, while even the students’ living quarters benefit from sharp details on their balconies; The Bauhaus campus’s main building makes an unequivocal statement.

(Photos Courtesy of bauhaus100)

All Stories